Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced a long history of exclusion from Australian history books, the Australian flag, the Australian anthem, and for many years, Australian democracy.
This history of dispossession of lands as a result of colonisation lies at the heart of the disparity between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians today.
Including recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in events, meetings, and national symbols, firstly acknowledges this history and is one part of ending the exclusion that has been so damaging.
Incorporating welcoming and acknowledgement protocols into official meetings and events recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, and the Traditional Custodians of the land. It promotes an ongoing connection to ‘place’ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and shows respect for Traditional Custodians.
Understanding the difference and the surrounding protocol is important.
See following FAQs.
Traditionally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups had clear boundaries separating their Country from that of other groups. Crossing into another group’s Country required a request for permission to enter.
When permission was granted, the hosting group would welcome the visitors, offering them safe passage and protection of their spiritual being during the journey.
While visitors were provided with a safe passage, they also had to respect the protocols and rules of the land custodian group while on their Country.
Today, these protocols have been adapted to fit with contemporary life. However, the essential elements of welcoming visitors and offering safe passage remain in place.
A Welcome to Country occurs at the beginning of a formal event, and can take many forms, including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies, or a speech in traditional language and/or English.
As distinct from an Acknowledgement of Country, only Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Elders (of their traditional land), or a Traditional Custodians who has been given permission, can welcome visitors onto their traditional land.
This is akin to who has authority to ‘welcome’ people into your ‘home’. This is usually restricted to those whose home it is. Therefore usually, the neighbour or other person (unless they have been authorised) is not in a position to welcome people into your home. Of course the neighbour, as well as others are able to ‘acknowledge’ who are the owners of your home.
An Acknowledgement of Country is an opportunity for each one of us to show respect for Australia’s Traditional Custodians, and the continuing connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, sea, sky and waterways.
Anyone can deliver an Acknowledgement of Country, Indigenous or non-Indigenous.
This is a powerful statement when the delivery is genuinely heart-felt and respectful.
There are no set protocols. It is a decision of the group hosting the event. However, the following may guide the decision.
Welcome To Country: Is usually used on more formal occasions: Opening of a conference; moving into new premises; commencing the construction or at the dedication of a new building; at a significant function/event, or similar. They require delivery by a Traditional Elder who holds the Traditional Cultural knowledge. It is usual for a fee to be charged for this service.
Acknowledgment of Country: Is used in less formal occasions, for example, at beginning of regular meetings as determined by group. Any one, appropriately prepared and with genuine purpose to honour the intent of the Acknowledgement, can provide the delivery. Personal Acknowledgements are often used, by speakers at conference.
Acknowledgements are more frequently delivered than a Welcome to Country.
However, Acknowledgement of Country statements should reflect the respectful recognition (acknowledgement) of the Traditional Custodianship of the lands on which the function/meeting/worship is being held.
It is also respectful to recognise (acknowledge) the continuing importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of connection to their land, seas, waterways and skies
Accordingly it is respectful, to recognise (acknowledge) the Traditional Elders, past and present (some will also recognise emerging Elders as well). This recognition is given because of the important role Elders have held, and continue to hold as the authority on the traditional cultural knowledge and their responsibility to share this amongst the members of their First Nations community.
Below are two examples: [source Reconciliation Australia]
General: I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today. I recognise the continuing connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, sea, sky and waterways. I pay my respects to Elders past and present.
Specific (where the name of the Traditional Custodians is known): I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today, the [Traditional Custodians] of the [nation]. I recognise the continuing importance of connection that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, sea, sky and waterways. I pay my respects to Elders past and present.
Note: If possible, and where you are unsure of phrasing or specific details, it is recommended that contact be made with the local Traditional Custodians for information. Contacting the local council may be provide a starting point where this is unknown.
Acknowledgements of Country:
* are not required to be delivered by a First Nations person. Any person, appropriately prepared, can deliver this.
* usually occur at the commencement of a function/meeting/event.
* are usually brief and succinct – several sentences.
* should be genuine and heartfelt to show true respect and recognition.
* generally recognise the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which the meeting etc occurs, as well as the Traditional Elders, past and present, who provide the authority on, and are the holders of, the traditional cultural knowledge.
Acknowledgements are intended to be a heartfelt and meaningful recognition. What this looks like will be different from one individual to another, different from one group to another.
Understanding the purpose and intent of the Acknowledgement together with the context of your local situation should guide the individual expression of the statement. This helps reduce the risk of ‘tokenism’.
The LCA has no such requirement. This is a decision for each congregation/ministry group/organisation.
There is however, encouragement to learn and understand about the intent, purpose and respectful delivery of an Acknowledgement of Country. Based on this shared understanding, individuals/groups are then in an informed position to determine how to proceed on this matter.
By becoming informed and understanding the intent and purpose of the Acknowledgement within the local context of your role which occurs on the Country of First Nations peoples.
Providing an Acknowledgement for the sake of ‘ticking a box’, or because it is the ‘done thing’ is tokenistic. But where there is thoughtful preparation (understanding the purpose and intent of an Acknowledgement, even developing some knowledge of the Traditional Custodians) combined with heartfelt and meaningful delivery, the risk of ‘tokenism’ is minimised.
As a statement of acknowledgement and recognition, this can be delivered in a range of formats. For example, but not limited to:
* Spoken prior to the commencement of proceedings
* In print / electronic format – hard and soft copies of newsletters, bulletins, agendas and minutes, letterheads, banners and other promotional material, title pages or footers in powerpoint presentations.
* As part of a signature (electronic or otherwise).
* Digital, as evidenced when the RAP website opened up.
* Plaques on buildings / signage.
These opportunities could be raised for discussion.
Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
The term ‘Reconciliation Action Plan’, RAP, and the RAP logos are all trade marked to Reconciliation Australia through IP Australia. This preserves the integrity of the RAP program. The LCA works in partnership with Reconciliation Australia in developing their RAP. Access to further information can be found on the Reconciliation Australia website.
Reconciliation is intentionally working together towards a level ‘playing field’ for all. Reconciliation is to be understood as the ongoing (collaborative) walking alongside /working together between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community in a mutually unifying and respectful relationship, towards equity in opportunity and outcome. This journey is everyone’s business.
Further information: A Framework for Reconciliation Action
A RAP is a tool much like a business plan or strategic plan, that is created in a way that enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians together to be involved in all aspects of its design, delivery and evaluation.
A RAP is a document that is designed to enable ideas and plans to come to life by providing us with a list of agreed practical actions and accountability that will drive our church’s contribution to reconciliation within church as an organisation and in all the communities in which we participate.
There are four levels of RAPs within the Reconciliation Australia Program:
1. Reflect (scoping plan)
2. Innovate (implementation plan)
3. Stretch (embedding plan)
The LCA will first create a Reflect RAP, to be endorsed in 2020, and from there progress to an Innovate RAP to be endorsed 2021. (see previous question)
Reconciliation opens doors and shows us ways to grow, together as God’s people.
Reconciliation is an expression in us of bringing love to life.
A RAP is much like a business plan or strategic plan, a RAP is a tool that our Church will use, that can help us to intentionally:
• listen with greater and deeper focus
• make a plan together
• publicly commit to this plan
• follow through and keep on track with this plan
• be accountable for what we do, and, what we don’t do.
A small team appointed by the LCA 50.500 initiative developed a proposal for the General Church Council at the Synod in October 2018.
This proposal asked Synod to:
1. support the development of a RAP
2. resource the development
3. report back to Synod when it next meets in 2021 with particular reference to the implementation of the plan.
2 Corinthians 5:16–20: ‘Reconciliation is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is a gift of God in which we are invited and privileged to participate.’ As we are reconciled with Christ through his death and resurrection, as Christians, empowered by the Holy Spirit, God calls us to be reconciled with one another. In doing this we can understand, value and respect the histories, cultures and contributions of our First Nations peoples, sharing in our common humanity.
The Lutheran Church has a long and deep history of working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As an Australian mainstream Christian church, the LCA has demonstrated historical leadership in our relationships with First Nation peoples, however, this is not the end of such engagement – it is the beginning.
Developing an LCA Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is an opportunity to grow. Like the baptised new life we live reconciled in Christ, each day is a new beginning and a new opportunity to grow in relationships with those around us.
The Lutheran Church of Australia is an organisation that participates in the lives of Australians. For our church to participate meaningfully, we need to be able to ensure that our participation is respectful and dignified with our First Nation peoples. A RAP will provide a mechanism for the LCA members to learn and grow in understanding of such.
Therefore, the development of a RAP is for all of us:
.* from the administrative arm of the LCA to the congregations in the smallest of towns
* from the services we provide to the people in word and sacrament ministry
* from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities we walk alongside to the leaders and decision-makers of our church.
The development of a RAP is for the Lutheran Church in Australia, its congregations, its members, its workforce and the First Nation peoples with whom our church connects.
The LCA has actively sought to listen to a range of First Nation leaders across Australia. Our deep history of ministry in a number of communities is an important part of this. We have also learned that we needed to take the time to listen and hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples in the first instance.
We have started this.
The overwhelming response so far has been that First Nation peoples and communities wish to be a strong part of the ministry of the Lutheran Church, and would like to be involved in all areas including worship, ministry and mission, and services.
We have not finished listening to people yet.
We have developed a proposal for the endorsement of Synod to commit to the development of a plan on how the Lutheran Church of Australia can put into action our ministry of reconciliation with our First Nation peoples.
We have sought and received Synod’s endorsement of the RAP proposal (19th General Convention of Synod).
With this support, an initial Reflect RAP will be developed to be followed by an Innovate RAP.
This is an opportunity to scope the churchwide structures and environments, identifying past and current relationship-building histories between First Nations peoples and other Australians. This RAP lays the foundation for future RAPS.
It is the intention of the LCA to engage a RAP working group to then develop an Innovate RAP. This working group will have a range of members, specifically inclusive of First Nations representation to develop and propose the actions for ratification by GCB.
The RAP project team and an appointed project officer will manage the development and processing of each of the RAPs.
The Church works closely with Reconciliation Australia to ensure cultural integrity of the RAPs. It is essential that First Nations leadership and voices are heard and listened to, throughout this project and beyond.
To maintain transparency and accountability the progress of each RAP is overseen by GCB and the Bishop of LCA.
To maintain transparency and accountability the progress of each RAP is overseen by GCB and the Bishop of the LCA.
With the endorsements of both GCB and Reconciliation, the LCA will launch the RAPs and provide a report to the 2021 General Convention of Synod.
There are primarily three parts to this process.
Part 1 (pre 2018 Synod):
A successful proposal was presented to the 2018 General Convention of Synod seeking support.
Part 2 (post 2018 Synod):
Both RAP developments, the Reflect and Innovate RAPs are inclusive of working with key stakeholders to develop practical actions to assist the LCA to seek this reconciled future with our First Nation Peoples.
Part 3 (pre 2021 Synod):
RAP Implementation of the practical actions, reporting back to 2021 General Convention of Synod on its progress and benefits.
This is a continuing process.
With regard to this project opportunities for conversations over several years leading to the 2018 Synod have been extensive. This has included:
* Visiting and re-visiting First Nations Lutheran communities, engaging with community elders, members and workers in their living and worship environments, participating in the ministry of the Church – hearing the voices in these spaces.
* Researching and reviewing the well-documented histories of Aboriginal ministry In Australia and previous initiatives of the Church to review their ministry in this space – listening to what these documents were saying and continue to tell us.
* Having conversations with Aboriginal leaders and elders – strengthening and deepening cultural knowledge and what is important to First Nations peoples.
* Hearing from those who have, or who have had strong connections and an extensive history of ongoing relationships with First Nations peoples.
* Participating in workshops, online learning and professional reading authored by various Aboriginal organisations – these have given voice to matters that impact First Nations peoples.
Some key stakeholders include (but not limited to):
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lutherans
• Agencies and affiliated bodies (eg Finke River Mission, Lutheran Services, Lutheran Community Care)
• Current and former workers in Aboriginal ministry
• District representatives
• Pastors (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal)
• Congregations (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal)
• LCA leaders and decision-makers
• LCA Bishop and General Church Board
Reconciliation is an ongoing journey not a destination.
We give thanks for the long-standing historical, and current work in our Church to establish and strengthen relations between First Nations peoples and other Australian Lutherans. Acknowledged also is all current and ongoing relationship building through the church’s ministry engaging with First Nations peoples. Many fine examples of reconciliatory activities can be identified here. However, there remains scope to build on this.
There continues for many, a lack of depth of meaningful knowledge, understanding and respectful valuing of First Nations peoples’ cultures, languages, histories and spirituality.
The structure of a RAP provides a tracked plan of agreed practical actions to work towards this and helps drive our church’s contribution to reconciliation. A RAP stops the drift – it promotes continued focus and momentum.
By virtue of LCA’s history, the Church’s direct connection with First Nations peoples appears at first glance to be focussed on specific geographies around Australia such a Far North Queensland, Central Australia and western South Australia.
However, statistical records clearly indicate many First Nations peoples are located within Australia’s cities, towns and rural communities as well. This means perhaps in your own community! How would you know?
How aware are we of First Nations people who may well be sitting (or not) in our pews in our very own congregations and ministry spaces? We may not because they may have chosen not to share their cultural heritage. They perhaps feel culturally unsafe to reveal their heritage.
If you are not aware of any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders in your congregation, there will be First Nations peoples in most of the communities that LCA members, congregations, agencies and employees serve. The LCA has Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees across all geographies and the LCA’s community service agencies have many clients who are First Nations peoples.
Our Church is not a closed system. We are an integral part of the Australian community.
The implementation of a RAP across the whole Church will make us a more inclusive Church. It will make us a more relevant member of the Australian communities with whom we are engaging and serving every day. It will help us all to fully live our tag line ‘where love comes to life.’
Get on board as a champion of the RAP. Reconciliation is everyone’s business.
Keeping in mind that reconciliation is about building dignified and respectful relationships together with First Nations peoples, a starting point could be to simply reflect on and seek meaningful responses for yourself to the following questions:
» what can I do differently to build better relationships with First Nations peoples?
» what can I do differently to have and show greater respect for First Nations peoples?
» what can I do differently to create further opportunities for First Nations peoples to help build a stronger church?
A RAP gives the LCA a strengthened opportunity of achieving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement objectives, and delivering broader outcomes including:
* drawing on our existing relationships, knowledge and resources
* providing greater support to the existing LCA Aboriginal ministry areas
* developing stronger respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
* creating opportunities for us to work together, to grow strong in faith
* providing opportunity for more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to give leadership and contribute to decisions concerning mission and ministry in the LCA
* growing the career ministry paths for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
* the opportunity to become an employer of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
* a more dynamic, innovative and diverse workforce
* a more culturally safe and tolerant workplace
* enhancing service delivery amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, and
* the opportunity to contribute to new projects, industries, services, products and ways of doing business.